As I concluded my sixth cycle of chemo, my counsellor and Macmillan nurse both warned me that people commonly find the post chemo phase disorienting. Suddenly the frequency of contact with health professionals diminishes and no one can provide a definitive view on how long it will take for the effects of the chemo to leave your system. In the same way that people react differently to chemo in terms of side effects, the same is true of how long it takes for people to get over chemo. I struggled to appreciate the fact I was very slowly making improvements having got into the habit of scrutinizing how I was feeling on a day by day basis.
For me, the conclusion of my final chemo cycle signalled the onset of the next key milestone – my post chemo scan. I’d not had one since I started my chemo. Once the business of Christmas festivities were out the way and three weeks had elapsed from my last dose of chemo the anxiety started to build. What if all the grogginess of chemo has been for nothing? What if the cancer has continued to grow? I experienced physical pain as a result of the anxiety, I felt my chest tighten and it hurt to breathe the more I dwelled on it.
Having the CT scan itself was fine. This was my third; I was clued up on what happened and was fully expectant of the need to down six glasses of water on arrival at the hospital prior to the scan. Friends and family were keen to know what was happening post chemo and how I was doing. I’d explain the scan was the next step and that I would see my oncologist a few days later to obtain the results. I started being intentionally vague about when I was seeing my oncologist to avoid feeling pressured by the need to update everyone instantly following the appointment. When the time came, I took the fact the oncologist commenced the appointment without the oncology nurse present as a good sign – surely if it was bad news he’d wait until she returned to allow her to help alleviate my concerns. Thankfully the scan was clear which came as a major relief and meant the chemo had done what it was supposed to. I wanted to share the good news but needed to temper it with a reminder that I was not out the woods – this is something I won’t get shot of but with any luck it can be managed for a long time to come.
Once my six cycles of chemo were over I felt the need to take control where I could. Diet was one area where I could exert control; however I found the array of advice overwhelming, and often contradictory, or specific to a certain cancer type. Having read multiple books and articles I decided I’d seek to incorporate the commonly cited ‘good’ foods and drinks into my diet and reduce the ‘bad’ foods that are claimed to promote the growth of cancer cells. There was mention of cutting out refined sugar and dairy – again there didn’t appear to be conclusive evidence of the benefit so I made a conscious effort to limit them but not cut them out completely.
As someone who has never been on a diet of any nature previously I’m a firm believer in everything in moderation, a philosophy that healthcare professionals have encouraged me to continue with. I’m cautious about embarking on too many regimes to the extreme. If my cancer remains managed then I don’t want to put pressure on myself to keep up regimes that are unsustainable.